While predictions and projections for the Rays' big-league team are soaring, the farm system isn't getting very good reviews.
After ranking No. 1 three times and in the top four three others in Baseball America's past seven organizational talent rankings (and 11th in 2012), the Rays dropped all the way to 20th in the latest listing. And after being ranked second best in 2012 and third in 2013 in Keith Law's ESPN farm system rating, the Rays plummeted all the way to 23rd this year.
Those rankings are subjective, snapshots based on arbitrary criteria. But for an organization with the objective to build through player development, it's not an encouraging sign.
Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman didn't totally disagree with the critical analysis.
"I think we have a lot of depth in our system," he said. "I think the one area we're probably not as good as we'd like it to be is in the elite kind of top-end talent, not having as many high-end guys as we would like. But I think the depth is pretty strong."
With OF Wil Myers — the club's third AL rookie of the year in six years — and RHP Chris Archer in the majors, and injuries limiting the value of SS Hak-Ju Lee and RHP Taylor Guerrieri, the latest rankings highlight that absence of elite prospects as no Ray made the top 50 in any of the major lists.
RHP Jake Odorizzi was the top Ray on mlb.com's list at 56, with Lee 84th and Guerrieri 94th. Guerrieri was 66th on Law's list, with Lee 79th and 2013 first-round pick C Nick Ciuffo 95th. LHP Enny Romero was 90th on Baseball Prospectus' list, with Odorizzi 92nd. Baseball America's top 100 isn't out yet, but no Rays made any of the four top 50 lists in the new Prospect Handbook.
Both Law and the BA editors noted that good trades helped the Rays make up for unproductive drafts, but it appeared to be catching up to them. Obviously another trade, of LHP David Price, could help solve the problem.
BOOK WORM: If nothing else, playing for A's after the Rays will give OF Sam Fuld insight into two organizations run so well that books have been written about them. "I'm going to morph Moneyball with The Extra 2%," Fuld said. "It'll be like The Extra Moneyball 2%." … The Rays are part of Dirk Hayhurst's soon-to-be-out new book, Bigger Than The Game.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Manager Joe Maddon turned 60 Saturday, celebrating the night before at a surprise party staged by his wife, Jaye. "Sixty is the new 40," Maddon said. … Among other teams, the Rays have been talking to the Nationals about C Jose Lobaton for a while, seriously and reportedly for more than a month. Switch-hitting INF Danny Espinosa would be an interesting name. … Congrats to team president Matt Silverman and wife Andrea on the birth of their daughter, Alexa. … Baseball Prospectus' first PECOTA projections have the Rays, and Red Sox, winning an AL-most 89 games. … Best wishes in retirement to OF Matt Diaz, a Lakeland product who made a pretty good career for himself in Atlanta after a rough start with the Devil Rays. … The broadcast teams are set, with Sun Sports pre-/postgame analyst Orestes Destrade and radio pre-/postgame host Neil Solondz also returning.
EX-RAYS RUMBLINGS: Johnny Damon turned 40 in November and (apart from the WBC) hasn't played since August 2012, but he said he's not necessarily done, open to playing or managing, but only in the majors. … RHP Jesse Crain didn't pitch for the Rays after being acquired in a July trade, and now — after having biceps surgery in October — won't be ready to start the season with the Astros. … RHP James Shields appreciated being back at the Trop for last weekend's Ted Williams Museum honors. "There's a lot of memories in this building; this is my home," he said. "I play for Kansas City now, but my heart's with Tampa, and always will be." He then asked the fans to remember that the next time he pitches there — and not boo him.